Christmases Spent Abroad
Updated: Mar 19, 2020
Nuggets of holiday joy, shared with a bunch of strangers.
My very first Christmas away from home was also abroad. I was in my early 20's and in under 6 months of completing my medical training and under a year of enlisting, I found myself in the desert. Saudi Arabia. Desert Shield. Family and friends sent me a bottom branch of an artificial tree, which became the entirety of my (very Charlie Brown) tree, shared with my tent mates. Along with it, a small amount of garland and a few plastic ornaments... and some treats from home. My Aunt and Uncle also sent a mix tape of Christmas classics... lots of Sinatra and Bing. I spent all of my Christmas money on batteries for my 'boombox', 'Walkman'... and a few for my Gameboy when the PX truck came around. The tree, music and treats made Christmas in our Bedouin tent so much brighter."
I celebrated Christmas in an Ecuadorian polleria eating a whole chicken for lunch, and cuy in someone's home for dinner.
Vanuatu 2009 Christmas flew in on Christmas Eve and Port Villa was deserted as everyone had returned to their villages or hotels. Randomly got picked up by a local journalist heading to a party with one of the local chiefs, got wasted drinking kava, think we may have slept on their lawn ...
2004 in Luxembourg. I rocked up a day or two before to take part in preparing the oodles of food, as Lupo was pretty keen to show me how to it’s done Romanian style. We had mulled wine and wurst in the Wienachtsmarkt the night before and then on Xmas day started early with a full British lunch that we had to get out of the way. Washed down with loads of Palinka. Then nap, then awake and eat the Romanian stuff then more palinka, then to a friends and more Romanian food and more Palinka. You get the idea. Woke the next morning to a snowfall and the news that half of Thailand/Sri Lanka had been washed away by the Tsunami. We went for a long walk in the crisp untouched snow and talked about the future of AI (!) as thats what Lupo was doing. It was unforgettable.
SOFIA BALLON HAMANN
I spent Christmas 2010 at a temple in Chiang Mai. Mostly meditating around a lit stuppa with the local community. 🙏
I hang off the balcony and search in vain for internet. My hostess chainsmokes and calls the airport on her landline. It’s Christmas Eve, and I imagine the worst for my friend, lost somewhere in Havana. After hours of this, my hostess drags me out of the house, saying that the thought of me spending it alone gives her goosebumps. We take an almendrón to her brother’s— a house party that filled the senses— everyone crowded in a small room. The young people are sweating, grinding to that Daddy Yankee jam on repeat (terremoto!), and it’s unclear who is related and who is single and… no matter. The old people sit with plates of food on their laps, fanning themselves, watching and laughing.
The food is delicious, I tell the brother. He smiles. "You like the lechón, eh? Let me show you something." He beckons me to the adjacent kitchen and opens a door to a dimly lit lean-to. My eyes adjust to find a FAT sow laid prone in her sty, three teenage piglets oinking softly as they root around. "That’s where the lechón comes from," he explains to me in simple Spanish, pointing to my paper plate. I looked from the pork to the pigs and planned for an uncomfortable Christmas morning.
I did finish my Nochebuena feast, and I did find my friend. Thankful for both gifts, I was mostly grateful for my strong gut on that Christmas Day. Praise be.